Skip to main content
A Magazine for

The Manchester edition of Now Then is no longer publishing content. Visit the Sheffield edition.

"Often we are relying on charm and hustle": An interview with Liam White of Falsetooth Films

With Punch-Drunk longlisted for a BAFTA and screening at this year's Manchester International Film Festival, we spoke to Falsetooth Films' Liam White about the company's past and future film output.

Punch drunk film still
Barry Ward in Punch-Drunk

Alongside Larry Ketang, Liam White heads up Manchester-based film company Falsetooth Films. At this year’s Manchester Film Festival Falsetooth will be screening Punch-Drunk, a short film about how, "in a café in Marseille, a man's life is knocked off its axis when his lunch is disturbed by a chatty stranger."

Punch-Drunk, which stars Barry Ward and Corin Silva, was longlisted for a BAFTA and it has been selected by four BAFTA, BIFA or Oscar-qualifying festivals including Raindance, whilst the company’s jet-black comedy short DOUGHNUT played at six qualifying festivals.

Like DOUGHNUT—a film in which Brian Blessed impressions and murder confessions appear within minutes of each other—Punch-Drunk continues the duo's trademark of naturalistic, good-humoured settings suddenly being flipped to reveal a warped moral conundrum and likeable characters being forced to make difficult decisions.

Liam and Larry met whilst working in the same inner-city school. They made a comedy short for a short film competition and fell in love with filmmaking. They have been working ever since, making sketches and short films, developing their style and trying to grow their network from scratch.

They set up Falsetooth Films in 2018. Their first short, Tick, Tick, Tick, got them off to a strong start, being selected by several BAFTA and BIFA-qualifying festivals and winning Best Comedy at Sunderland Short Film Festival in 2021. They now have five shorts in the can under the Falsetooth Films banner.

I took the opportunity to have an electronic chat with Liam about his work.

From rainy Manchester to Raindance for the premiere of Punch-Drunk. How did that come about?

Once the film was locked, it was a case of submitting to festivals. As most at the time were still online and there was a lot of uncertainty around whether we’d be able to attend any, I decided to focus on the BAFTA-qualifying festivals first—which was lucky, as Punch-Drunk ended up making the BAFTA long list!

Punch-Drunk will be appearing at the Manchester International Film Festival and previous works like DOUGHNUT have screened there too. Is the festival a key event in your calendar?

Absolutely. MANIFF was actually the first festival where DOUGHNUT played, so it has a fond place in our hearts. The experience was great, even though it was all online.

We feel very lucky that we have the opportunity to have a film play in an actual cinema amongst a real-life audience this time. And networking is always a big part of these things, getting to ask other filmmakers how they made theirs/tell them how much you loved their film. It’s much harder to do that via DM!

Apart from Tick Tick Tick, you normally work with a small-ish cast. How much input into the script do they have, or is it locked down?

To be honest, very little input. I have a very clear vision of what the film should be. With actors, it’s more about answering questions about their characters—motives, back-story etc—that can then help them embody the role.

I’m always open to questions. You want it to be a collaborative process and if a better idea for something is offered up then great. But pretty much what you see is in the script.

One of the nicest compliments I’ve had on the script was that the Director of Photography, Gareth Bowler, had thought Corin Silva (George) had been ad-libbing a line, until he actually looked at the script between takes and saw it there on the page. I try to write dialogue as realistic-sounding as possible, so that felt amazing to hear.

With Punch-Drunk especially, the script was carefully calibrated for the drip-feed of info and maximum impact of the emotional rollercoaster Colin (played by Barry Ward) goes through, so it doesn’t really lend itself to improvised tangents.

At a time when the country was either entering or emerging from one form of lockdown to another, Punch-Drunk, Pickles and DOUGHNUT were finalised. Do constraints and limitations help you and Larry to focus on getting things done?

The lockdowns actually helped us a lot as a lot of people were free, and also scratching at the walls to do something after being cooped up inside, which is how we managed to finish and film four shorts in 2020: the three above plus Department of Necrosis, which we are in post production on.

The main barrier to us is money, or lack thereof. That is ultimately the most potent grease to get wheels turning. Often we are relying on charm and hustle—which has gotten us this far, but is less effective!

The premise of Pickles—based on a woman agreeing to look after her neighbours’ dog whilst they’re away, only to find it dead on the first day—is dressed in black humour. Has that humour been inspired by other artists or something in your background?

That’s a great question and a really difficult one to answer. I’ve never consciously tried to ape or homage anything I’ve loved when writing a script, simply through fear of rehashing what has come before, and I’d feel I would be cheating the audience, which is the opposite of what I want to do. We both have quite a dry, jet-black sense of humour, and I just write what feels right. If anything I try to actively avoid stuff I’ve seen, especially stuff I love, when I’m writing.

I end up writing about death and guilt and likeable people thrown into moral dilemmas, which on paper makes for worrying reading. But I think I’m quite well-adjusted..!

I tend to start with the idea, and then think about what situations and characters best explore that theme. I also find humour is a great way of creating an emotional response, and life is hard enough without me writing a bleak 15-minute film for you to endure.

Having said that, Punch-Drunk is deliberately the least funny film we’ve made. One filmmaker after the Raindance screening said he felt like he’d held his breath for 13 minutes, which was a perfect response and made my day!

I saw DOUGHNUT as part of MIFF last year and loved it. I thought there was potential to make it into a longer affair. When you finish a project do you put it in the past or do you re-visit them to look to further develop them?

That is lovely to hear thank you.

So far, I’ve only written short film scripts because why would I spend months or years breaking my back to write a feature-length script that no one will read? I’ve only written stuff I think I can then make. And I throw as much subtext, layers, Easter eggs into each film as I can. If someone is going to give some of their time watching my film, I want to reward them for doing so.

I feel that If I had one eye on a future, longer version of it, and I held stuff back, that would dilute the film, if that makes sense. Better to make the best film you can and see where that leads.

We’re not against re-visiting past works or expanding them per se. Ages ago, we made a short called Spanish Omelette that went down insanely well (except in Spain, where they hate it). There was enough enthusiasm from people for more of that character that we thought, ‘OK, where is this guy now?’ and ended up making two sequels. The process felt like it developed quite organically and I think that comes across in what ended up a trilogy, which didn’t start as a trilogy of films but just a short about a guy having a breakdown as he tried to cook an omelette (it’s another comedy about loss).

The synopsis of Punch-Drunk is: “In a café in Marseille, a man's life is knocked off its axis when his lunch is disturbed by a chatty stranger.” Was that filmed in Costa del Salford during lockdown?

Haha close! Actually, The Beagle in Chorlton. We would have loved to have flown the cast and crew over to Marseille, even though the framing of the one-sustained shot is that it could have pretty much been filmed anywhere… hence The Beagle. They were great, and really accommodating.

All the films you’ve produced as shorts, which I presume fits in with the other jobs you have. Will you venture into longer formats?

That’s the dream!

With Punch-Drunk having made the BAFTA longlist, we’re starting to get asked about what longer-form stuff we have up our sleeves. Hopefully it’s not just lip service.

I’m actually in the process of writing my first feature script, which as you’ve hinted is tricky with a full-time job and a family at home. But if any millionaires or production execs reading this want to fund me to spend time developing these things, I’m here!

There is another Manchester based film writer-producer that I’ll be speaking to as part of this exercise, Milda Bagi. You have credited other local actors such as Maxine Peake, so is there a supportive film network in the North West?

The simple truth is that we would not have been able to make these short films without a small army of helpers; people who have been willing to give up their time, forgo a wage... Even Punch-Drunk, which has been one of our more expensive ones, still had loads of French people volunteer for free to traipse into Salford for a few hours to record their voices for the background noise, and others to sit there for even longer on the day, in silence, as extras in the background, for no money; just the opportunity to be part of a short film, and my delicious jerk chicken at lunchtime.

Maxine Peake was one of a handful of people who very generously watched the first full cut of DOUGHNUT to give me their honest feedback. That’s actually a bigger thing than most people might think. If you don’t know me and I’m asking you to give 15 minutes of your day to watch my film? They’d have not been called mad if they ran a mile.

But in the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had enormous amounts of help from talented strangers; Charlotte Regan, Ruth Paxton, off the top of my head, are two people who time and time again have pointed me in the right direction. They’ve never needed to, but they did. Alice Seabright, Maxine Peake, Theresa Varga. The list goes on. Anyone who has ever watched one of my shorts or shared it or sent me a lovely message. It’s all fuel towards the next one. It all counts, and without it, the films simply would not exist, and I certainly wouldn’t be spending most of the spare minutes the universe gives me trying to make more

Department of necrosis film still
Department of Necrosis Falsetooth Films

Larry also contributes to the soundtrack. Is there no limit to his talents?

That sounds like a question Larry would ask.

You have also appeared on film (Tick Tick Tick). Is that in the style of how Hitchcock always had a cameo role, or could it lead to more substantial roles?

With Tick Tick Tick, I was that character, and I wanted to play that character. But although I love performing, it’s mainly been out of necessity. We really, really struggled to get enough cast, especially in our earlier films. When we set out making Tick Tick Tick, we had absolutely no film network. We had to build it up from scratch. Now that we have a few more under our belt and the films are (I think) getting better and better, and are doing quite well, we’re getting more people who know what we’re about and want to get involved, which is great. I love the idea of a Hitchcock cameo, although I’ve not been on screen since.

What are your views on the cinema vs. Netflix debate?

Ultimately, the cinema is just the absolute best place to enjoy any filmobviously except if there are fights or people urinating on the side of the wall, both of which I’ve seen.

With the cinema, you are giving yourself over. Everything becomes heightened because of the lack of distraction. You’ve paid your money, you’re plonked there for two hours, you want the most from it.

It certainly is hard to beat watching our films with an audience when they land. The audience reactions almost egg each other on and amplify how people react to what’s on screen. It’s just not the same watching on your phone at 2am. Netflix is great in terms of ease of access, although I almost feel there’s so much stuff it’s easy for films to get swallowed up.

What are the future plans for Falsetooth films?

We’re hoping to have Department of Necrosis finished by summertime. Pickles is on the festival circuit, hopefully along with Punch-Drunk it’ll come online before the year’s out.

We have two shorts we’d love to film. One is ready to go, it ‘just’ needs £7,500. Another one has two well-respected and well-liked actors who have stated they want to be involved, you’ve possibly mentioned the name of one already. But that too needs a budget. And we’d want a producer for that.

Other than that, I am writing the feature script as well as developing a few other ideas for both TV and film.

We are also very open to directing, and in my case writing, for others. So if you are someone very powerful in the film and TV industry and are reading this, slide into my DMs!

Filed under: 

More Film

Your Mum and Dad: Therapy on screen

This film, released today, shows us therapy from one the few African-American Freudian therapists in the United States. Psychotherapist Mat Pronger reviews the Klaartje Quirijns documentary for Now Then.

More Film